A Chat with Ms. ZM


Article by Take Zoot and Kokoro Igawa

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Hanabi recently had the opportunity to sit down and speak with our new high school principal, Ms. Zuber-Meehan. She joins us at ASIJ after 16 years at the Singapore American School, where she served as an English teacher and as the high school deputy principal. We spoke to Ms. Zuber-Meehan about her goals, important life lessons, pet peeves, and everything in-between. 

What has been your favorite part of being a part of the ASIJ community so far?

One-hundred percent getting to know high school students! I love working with kids, and I can’t imagine people who go to other jobs and don’t love what they do. I love getting to meet new people each day, helping people grow, learn, reflect, and be their best selves. It’s incredible to watch people become amazing human beings in front of your eyes. I have found that every student has been so gracious and so welcoming and so inviting and warm. I’m hoping to start taking my lunch out to the courtyard during break time and having a sign that says, “Please sit down and join me for lunch!” and having students come and join me. Interacting with young people is truly the highlight of my day. 

Anything you’re looking forward to in particular about being a part of the ASIJ community?

I can’t wait for the day we can wear our school colors and yell and scream and clap at an athletic event or performance or a club doing incredible service. I’m really looking forward to going all-in on the Mustang pride in a way that isn’t just clapping and cheering on the inside and behind masks. I am ready! I will do almost anything that high schoolers ask me to do because I want to see them succeed and be in their element. And that’s the fun of school; it’s what you remember more than the classes. 

I’m also looking forward to my own children becoming high schoolers—not too quickly, though. But I’m very excited that they will be a part of this community and have the opportunity to study and learn here. Just getting to know people—parents, staff, faculty, students, support staff, everyone. There’s so much I’m looking forward to. 

What are some of your goals for your time here at ASIJ and what kind of impact do you hope to leave on this school?

I would say building meaningful relationships. If we can spend time developing that bedrock and foundation, then we can learn boundlessly together. One of our team’s main goals is to create systems and ways of working together in the spirit of enriching our community. We want to ensure that the community remains inclusive and warm and that we really know and value each other. The school talks about Know, Value, Care, and that can sometimes be shortened to an acronym, KVC. But to me, it’s more than an acronym. If you truly do each one of these things, then learning can be limitless. Over the last 15 years, I have spent a lot of time trying to learn about what the future for our graduates looks like, and we need to listen to what the world is telling us we need: collaborators, critical thinkers, problem solvers, and good humans. The world needs this, and developing this starts in high school. And to me, it goes back to relationships. 

What is the most important lesson that you have learned so far in life?

I am learning every day. I make mistakes every day. When I make a mistake, I often go back to “Why did I make that mistake? Did I act in a way that is true to who I am and to my values?” Whenever I’m in that situation where I am trying to learn and reflect, it’s really around, “Am I being true to who I am?” It’s about taking that hard look in the mirror and saying, “Maybe, I didn’t live up to my own standards. How can I make amends and learn from it to make sure that I am better next time?” 

It’s such a risk sometimes to be who you are, particularly in school when we’re figuring out who we are as people and what it is that we value. Who are we? What are those touchstones and guiding stars in our lives? It takes a while, and even when you’re an adult, you’re still asking yourself that question all the time and trying to live up to that. 

What are some of your favorite pastimes?

I love things involving our whole family, and I love being outdoors with our kids. Part of why we moved out to Japan was to be able to get in a car, on a train, or bike and be in a beautiful park where we can hike together and just be outside. 

I do the New York Times crossword puzzle. I’ve had a subscription to that for years, and I can solve Monday through Thursday, but Fridays and Saturdays are near impossible for me. 

I used to hide it, and I don’t anymore, but I love Pokemon Go. It’s really helpful when you’re trying to go out with your family and do adventures in the woods and think, “I wonder if I’ll catch a rare Pokemon.” 

What are some of your major pet peeves? 

I find when people are disrespectful or have a disrespectful tone, it grates. I don’t think it takes a lot of energy to acknowledge someone. And it doesn’t even have to be very vocal or very cheery all the time. I am a person where if I pass you on the street, I’m going to make eye contact, and I’m going to nod at you. I think it’s also just a part of building community.

I also dislike close-mindedness and when people feel like they have all the answers and aren’t necessarily open to new ideas. I’m always an “I don’t know that yet” person or “I’m still learning.” I love that growth mindset.

What is one thing you haven’t tried that you would like to try in your lifetime?

So many things! I haven’t gone skydiving, but I’ve been parasailing. I loved that, so I don’t feel like I need to jump out of a plane. I’ve hiked on a volcano when I lived in New Zealand. I would like to have visited all of the continents. I haven’t been to enough; I haven’t been to Antarctica or South America. In Africa, I’ve been to Johannesburg and Capetown in South Africa. I’d like to get back there; it’s beautiful. If it hadn’t had water crises and been so far away from home, it would be a place that I could maybe live eventually. 

It’s not us and them, it’s all of us together.

— Ms. ZM

What led you to seek this job at ASIJ?

The short story is that ASIJ has always been a school on my radar. It’s a school that has a really rich tradition—having been around since 1902—and it’s always asking big questions about how we might be or what if we… . I also had the opportunity to come to Japan a number of times with my past students for an exploration trip. We would do the Nakasendo Trail, which is the traditional Edo trail. Something that stuck out to me was how we would be attending these beautiful tea ceremonies and learning about Japanese values, but then the next day you’re getting on a high-speed train. These things coexisting with each other is so incredible to me. I just spent all summer telling my family that we were going to be staying in Singapore for another two years, but then this job opened up and I knew I had to be true to myself. I have always said that this is something I wanted to explore; now, here was the opportunity. Am I going to take it? I wanted to show my kids that I was willing to take a risk. 

As an administrator, what kind of relationship do you wish to have with students, and what can we do as students to help facilitate that?

I hope that students see our leadership team and the adults at this school as people who wholeheartedly have their best interests at heart. It’s that foundational respect and trust that we are trying to create here. I hope that means that when I’m in the courtyard and I invite you to have lunch with me, students will have lunch with me and help me form those relationships. Also, I hope students are willing and open to point out things that they believe are not working. We can’t do everything, but we can’t do anything without knowing how you guys feel. I hope that students know Augustine, Nelson, and I have open-door policies, so please come see us. What else can students do to help? Continue to say “hi” or make eye contact in the hallway. Have the courage when you see a peer struggling or you’re struggling to seek out support. Find your voice to share with us what’s on your mind in the spirit of building one ASIJ. Smile, make eye contact, and eat lunch with us. It’s not us and them, it’s all of us together.